Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 26th 2013 by Vintage (first published March 2012)
I selected this book for a couple of reasons. First, a film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon is coming out this December, and so I thought Wild would make a good addition to my Books in the Media series. Second, this book was recommended to me by a relative. I picked it up and thought, This sounds all right. I’ll give it a shot. I later checked it out on Goodreads, and became unsure about what I was going to find within the pages. Some people said this book was amazing and life changing, while others complained about the whiney and vulgar tone. For a moment I considered taking the book back—vulgarity is not my thing. However, this book is indeed being made into a film, it’s a #1 New York Times Bestseller, it’s an Oprah book club book, and it’s one of Indigo’s CEO Heather’s Picks. It’s thus clearly a popular and widely read book. This does not guarantee it’s any good, but it shows that there’s a fair amount of buzz about the book and I should see what it’s all about.
Ultimately, Wild is a memoir about a difficult time in Cheryl’s life. When Cheryl’s twenty-two, her mother, the most important person in the world to her, passes away from cancer. She’s still young. There is still more she could learn from her mother. There is still more guidance she needs from her. She’s practically still a kid. But her mother is taken from her, and this crushes her. From that point forward, her life falls apart. Her father has been out of the picture since Cheryl was six, her step father is no longer around either, her brother and sister keep their distance, and she has trouble connecting with her husband. Her mother was her anchor. Without her, she no longer knows who she is. She floats along lost, trying to get her bearings.
This part of the story receives some criticism about being whiney and self absorbed. Yes, Cheryl was hurting and expresses that hurt, and yes, she ruined a good thing with her husband, and yes, she made some very stupid mistakes with heroin and other men. But she was just being honest about her vulnerability and imperfection. She was so young when the unthinkable happened. Anyone who criticizes her for her pain is one of four things:
- someone who has never lost a loved one
- heartless and compassionless
- extremely cynical
- or self-righteous and perfect, having never made a mistake.
This part of the story is beautiful and honest, filled with vulnerability, pain, and heartbreak. Yes, her husband was a good man. And yes, she loved him but betrayed him. However, her mother’s death changed her. She wasn’t the same woman she was when she married him. That doesn’t excuse her destructive behaviour, but you can love someone and not be able to be with them. How can you give yourself to someone when you don’t know who you are any more? How can you love and support them when you can’t do the same for yourself? She may not have handled it in the ideal way, but she wasn’t in a good place in her life. She was young, confused, and hurt. I think she should be forgiven and not judged for her mistakes.
In an effort to find her way again, she embarks on a crazy, ridiculous journey that she is utterly unprepared for. She decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone for three months, and over 1,000 miles of rocky terrain. People love to harp on about how stupid it was for her to do this. “She was so unprepared,” “She could have died,” “It’s disrespectful to real hikers,” “She wasn’t being brave—she was being stupid,” blah blah blah. I think people just love to complain about things. I agree, she could have given it a bit more thought. However, Strayed does acknowledge that. However, instead of crumbling and giving in, she pushes on and completes her goal. She learns so much about herself as she makes this journey; it shows her what she’s made of and what she’s capable of. She makes many mistakes, but she learns from them. Perhaps most importantly, she learns to move on.
I’ve also read some criticisms of how she glosses over the interesting parts of her journey in favour of taking a walk down memory lane. I’d argue that this book isn’t about her hike. It’s about her life, and what the trail taught her. If you’re more interested in purely wilderness stories, this isn’t that. This is about her life. And it’s hard for her to explore that without providing the reader with context. Throughout her journey, she grew up. She learned what was important. Alone for the better part of three months, she faced her demons.
As expected, there is a bit of vulgarity in her language sometimes and in her description of her sexual exploits. That wasn’t my favourite thing, but it wasn’t a prominent part of the book (and I was grateful for that). Overall, I found this book quite captivating. As a memoir, it’s top notch, and I am excited to see it come to life on the big screen later this year.It’s slated to be released 5 December, and I will be in line to see it! Keep an eye out for more posts about movie updates and promotions. I will discuss these as the release date nears, and then provide my thoughts on the film adaptation!
Content warning: Explicit language and sexuality, drug abuse.